Entry 16: Open Your Eyes- Sometime in the early 1990s, I pitched a tent at a music festival in North Queensland at a place called Pangola Park, south of Townsville. You know, I keep getting it confused with another place we camped at around the same time called Paronella Park near Meena Creek, a bit further north. My eyes were not particularly open
at either venue in those years. However, as a forty-something aspirational counter-cultural fellow-traveller, I lugged my second-best guitar in a canvas case with me along with my kids and my wife, as I re-imagined, in however desultory a fashion, the day-glo dream of the sixties.
By this stage, there were no illusions as to the realities facing all of us. Remember, this was a decade before the twin towers- but we knew something was happening, that there were tectonic shifts readying themselves under our feet. You did not need to consult with one of the many crystal-gazing seers at the fair-tents set up around these festivals in order to know that something was happening. You didn’t even have to know the lyrics of “Ballad of a Thin Man” by Bob Dylan to understand that a new dispensation was forming somewhere out there beyond our knowing.
But the day after I pitched the tent… in the smoky dawn, a pleasant chill to the tropical morning, I heard a didgeridoo sounding among the palms and rain-forest remnants around us. It made me forget the images of the first Gulf War: American jets screaming off carriers, a seemingly endless line of oil wells burning, wrecked vehicles on the road back to Basra, the Highway of Death, torn apart by 20mm M61 Vulcan Gatling guns firing 6,000
rounds a minute, mounted on lumbering Lockheed AC-130s as they performed pylon turns in the desert sky. It made me forget gung-ho reports of Coalition valour such as when those giant military bulldozers buried tens of thousands of Iraqi conscripts in their trenches.
For a while, I could believe I was somewhere in Eden, listening to the earth sing. And as I walked through the grove I came upon the young man playing that ancient aboriginal instrument in front of his tepee. But, before too long, the site started to stir; from a Kombi van behind me came the crackle of a radio, a 4WD rattled and roared along the grassy,
rutted track leading to the venue and a couple of happy, shrieking kids ran past. I walked back to our tent, grabbed my guitar, a notebook and pen and wandered in through the trees to find a quiet spot to compose. (Oh, here I go again, getting all autobiographical: it must be a lingering effect from the last entry.)
There was a song-writing competition and the organisers were looking for entries. I knew, even as I sat there under a tree, that I would not bother entering the comp but that I would try to write something worthy- or even better, worthwhile. But how does inspiration
come, I mused (ha!)? The first image to flit through my mind- and this might have been provoked by the sight and sound of the didge player earlier- was that of flute-carrying Euterpe who inspires music, song and lyrical poetry. Next, unfathomably, the ouroboros-a snake spinning in mid-air and eating its own tail.
Later, I tracked the image down: was it Kekule’s discovery of the benzene ring in a dream which unlocked the formula on which the oil industry is based that was the source of the spinning image under that tree? But such fleeting images did not result in the furor poeticus so beloved of Renaissance artists and I sat noodling away on the guitar hoping that the random chords and notes would give rise to something, anything. But, no…nothing, nada, zilch. Not for the first time, I wondered how it could be that even in the farthest reaches of interstellar space, there wasn’t “nothing”: Nature abhors a vacuum as we all know, and it will create fundamental particles rather than allow “nothing” to persist anywhere in vastness of the universe.
So, how to explain writer’s block? The human mind is definitely more mysterious than the physical universe. And don’t get me started on the soul! At any rate, my self-pitying interlude was interrupted by the two kids I had seen earlier. A boy and a girl aged about eight or nine -brother and sister by the look of them- walked up to me and started to chat- mostly an innocent inquisition- Who are you? What are you doing? Is that a good guitar?
Presently, their mother sauntered over and we had a pleasant chat about the festival venue, the acts, and the bastardry of the local politicians. Inter alia, I commented on the coolness of her kids’ shirts- brightly embroidered affairs that looked bespoke and, consequently, expensive. Nah, cheap as chips at the market, the Mum replied- and then the furor poeticus struck and I knew precisely why clothing in Australia was so modestly priced.